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Conservationists say Government is “lagging behind” on preparing for climate change, ahead of ‘make or break’ adaptation programme

With much of the UK baked over several weeks by this month’s heatwave, the National Trust is issuing a stark warning that the country’s much-loved heritage, landscapes and communities are under increasing threat from extreme weather events and warmer temperatures, as a result of climate change.

Parched lawn in the Rose Garden at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire | © National Trust Images/Mike Selby
Parched lawn in the Rose Garden at Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire | © National Trust Images/Mike Selby

Ahead of the anticipated release of the Government’s new National Adaptation Programme next month, which will set the Government’s climate adaptation agenda for the next five years, the charity says that much more needs to be done to prepare for intensifying climate impacts, to safeguard our heritage, economy and wellbeing.

It comes after the Climate Change Committee warned the country is ‘strikingly underprepared’ for the effects of a warming planet.

Now, new research undertaken by policy and research consultancy Public First, for the National Trust, has found that action to prepare for climate change has stalled because it has been side-lined as an issue for the “environmentally few”, when it should be a key role of Government. Unlike climate mitigation, which is enshrined in law through a Net Zero target, the UK has no set targets for climate adaptation.

And a new survey by Yonder published today reveals only 4% of the UK public think the country is well prepared for a changing climate.

Results also revealed that the vast majority, 82%, of people think climate change will affect the UK’s health, while 79% of people are worried the destruction of nature will affect them personally. And well over half, 57%, of UK adults want to see immediate steps taken by Government to respond to the threats of climate change.

Keith Jones, climate change advisor at the National Trust, said: “Facing into the effects of climate change is the elephant in the room. We need a frank conversation but also urgent action to address the level of risk we face, what we’re prepared to live with, and ambitious targets that can be measured and monitored. This isn’t just an environmental issue – it’s a whole society problem that the Government must fully address in its upcoming strategy. Right now, it’s in the ‘too difficult’ pile and that’s not acceptable.”

“There is a myriad of benefits if we take urgent action now, from lower insurance premiums due to reduced flood risk to adding £35bn to our economy by making historic buildings fit for the future. Not to mention less pressure on our health and emergency services and national infrastructure"

The Trust is calling for a step-change in ambition to prepare for climate change, including clearer centralised leadership which ensures all parts of Government are engaged and collectively responsible. The Trust believes the new National Adaptation Programme, expected shortly, is an opportunity Government simply cannot afford to miss, to ensure climate adaptation is no longer mitigation’s ‘poor relation’.

During last year’s heatwave and drought, the Trust reported parched landscapes, damaging fires and confused wildlife. Historic attractions were also affected, including a steam yacht gondola that could not sail due to the heat, and a traditional flour mill that had to stop working due to low river flows. Yet, despite above average rainfall in March, many areas of the country remain in drought conditions.

The charity, which cares for 250,000 hectares of land, over 300 historic buildings and more than 220 gardens and parklands, is taking steps to adapt its places, including major tree planting projects using species that are likely to be resilient to climate shocks and withstand future diseases and drought-tolerant planting in historic gardens that can cope with drier conditions. The Trust is also exploring shading and passive ventilation in its buildings, and is learning from cultural institutions in countries already dealing with regular extreme conditions.

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